Former Egypt PM faces torture charges in US court

The Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan filed a federal lawsuit in an American court on Monday, accusing the Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy, and the current director of General Intelligence Abbas Kamel and other former leaders of the Ministry of Interior, of ordering his arbitrary detention for 643 days and torturing him in an attempt to assassinate him in prison.

Mohamed, 32, is the son of Salah Soltan, professor of Islamic studies, who has been detained in Egypt since 2013. Mohamed was released from prison in Egypt in May 2015 after he began a severe hunger strike that put him on the verge of death. He was deported to the United States after being forced to give up his Egyptian citizenship in exchange for his freedom, as he holds American citizenship.

The lawsuit, filed by Soltan in the Washington District of Columbia Court, said that he was subjected to severe torture and systematic attempts to assassinate him inside prison for more than 21 months because he “dared to expose the Egyptian military government’s repression of the Islamist and liberal opponents that led to the massacres in Cairo, August 2013.”

Soltan’s complaint was 46 pages long and based on an American law enacted in 1991 that allowed torture survivors to seek compensation from their torturers in certain circumstances. The 1991 law allows for the prosecution of the complainants against them in the event of their entry into the United States, but governments and foreign leaders are usually immune from civil suits in American courts. But some of the complainants have left their jobs in Egypt, and thus the immunity granted to them by virtue of their positions is no longer there.

Hazem al-Beblawy, 83, is known to live in the United States, where he works on the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund, and lives in the McLean neighbourhood in northern Virginia, near Washington, while Sultan is currently living in Fairfax (also northern Virginia). That means al-Beblawy is under the US justice department authority, if the case is accepted.

Observers and legal experts believe that the Law for the Protection of Torture Victims could become a deterrent to authoritarian leaders who enjoy impunity in their countries. The Washington Post said that Soltan still has burns on his neck and bullet scars from where he was hit by the Egyptian security forces, and he suffers from limited use in his left arm. He still remembers the trauma he suffered in prison, where he watched political prisoners die and heard the screams of others when they were tortured, in addition to the torture of his father in a room next to his cell.

On Sunday, Soltan wrote on Twitter: “640 days in prison and 486 days on hunger strike … In this isolation, I was trying to reassure myself that I was alive.” He continued in another tweet: “There is no greater journey than seeking justice … here I start again.” He stressed that “This legal move is not aimed at political or intellectual victories. It seeks to achieve accountability and justice and to try to deter and prevent torture.” Soltan ended his tweets with hashtag #You_may_be_accounted, as an indirect message to the Egyptian officials who carry out human rights violations without fear of being held accountable.

The Egyptian regime usually denies the existence of torture and enforced disappearances, but human rights organisations say the number of political detainees in Egypt exceeds 60,000. Egyptian and international human rights organisations say that the Egyptian regime has systematically pursued a policy of torture and the enforced disappearance of thousands of political detainees in Egypt. During the past several years, many detainees have appeared repeatedly in videos before the public prosecution, during which they confessed to unreasonable accusations, which they later said had been made under the threat of torture.

Egyptian authorities face accusations of torturing people to death in many cases, one of them being the well-known case of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni who was tortured by the Egyptian secret security services to death in 2016.